|Ben Thoma and little Eddie, circa 1958.|
He was a biology instructor at the community college in Willmar during the school year and the park naturalist at Itasca State Park during the summer. He spent much of his adult life connecting people to the world of nature. He had little time or inclination for what he called "jock-like behavior," and whatever affinity he felt toward baseball was almost certainly linked to his eldest son's obsession with the game.
(Dad wasn't a fan; his mother was. Woe betide the grandson who interrupted Hildegard Thoma's enjoyment of Halsey Hall's broadcasts.)
Baseball and dad: I remember his 1940s glove, a relic of his youth that he used to play catch with his boys, a pancake that required two hands to catch the ball. When I imagine baseball in the 1940s and earlier, it's Dad's glove that informs that vision. Why are there no .400 hitters any more? One reason is that the gloves of the past half-century allow more catches.
I remember, too, a Twins game the family attended in the early 1970s and how my father somehow struck up a lengthy conversation with a vendor. It may have been a multi-piece talk, with the conversation resuming whenever the vendor's route led him past our seats. My brothers and I came home from the game talking about the plays; Dad came home with the story of the Griffith family, how Calvin Griffith and his siblings were taken in by Clark Griffith. Calvin and a sister were formally adopted; the others were not, but they were all involved in running the Twins, and one of Calvin's brothers ran the concession operations. How dad elicited the vendor's stories about Jimmy Robertson (or the details of those stories) are lost in the mists of my memory, but I know he got more enjoyment out of talking with that vendor than from the game itself.